After recently moving and settling into a newer and higher-priced abode, my husband has decided to take a one month break from work. I’m an American, so naturally I’m all “That’s okay! It’s summer!” But then, there is the issue of making our rent. Actually it’s not an issue, we can manage, since we split it 2 ways evenly and he’s saved up some money. But in Taiwan, people tend to be very frugal about spending, so a cheap apartment by western standards is far too expensive. If my husband had his way, we’d be living with his parents and paying nothing. However, there is a little thing called boundaries that I like to maintain. Fortunately, he understands.
But after a couple of years living in a very tiny and cheap apartment I began to yearn for more space and a more comfy atmosphere. I began to scour the Chinese-language classifieds on the daily and found lots of appealing places for about the same price of my old studio back in Portland, Oregon. Only many of these places exceeded the comfort level of said studio by a lot. So, once again I began the process of urging my husband to relocate.
The good thing about being married to a Taiwanese local who grew up in the city where we live and subsequently knows it like the back of his hand, is that I won’t get lured into a shady neighborhood by a “good deal.” Case in point, one day I stumbled across a bounty of luxurious looking places for not much more than our current rent in Zhongshan District, a more busy district across town. At that time, and still now, we were living in Zhongzheng District, which is kind of a university district. Anyway, for NT$17,000 we could live in a trendy looking modern apartment with a kitchen and a sleeping loft, plus a jacuzzi tub! I was all over it like white on rice.
The husband, however, was nonplussed. “Show me the address,” he said.
Eagerly, I shoved my Macbook in his face, full of anticipation. I couldn’t believe my savviness and now we were going to live in a really sweet place! Not to mention that me, a foreigner, had managed to find some really cool things in the Chinese-language classifieds.
“Do you know where this is?” My husband asked me. His tone remained the same. Complete and total lack of enthusiasm.
“Yeah, it looks nice,” he continued.
“But this is on the Linsen Bei (north) Road. That’s where all the prostitutes are and the mafia hangs out.”
“Oh.” I replied, downcast. I most definitely do not want to be living there.
Yeah, its true that Taiwanese mafia don’t mess with people who are not in the mafia themselves. Unless you’re a guy trying to steal one of their girlfriends, or girls within the group at a nightclub (in which case be prepared to get jumped by a group and have glass bottles broken over your head). Still, knowing that this area is their stronghold, I wouldn’t want to make the decision to move there. At least in Zhongzheng, we have peace and quiet. Zhongshan is also renowned as the “24 hour business district.” That means that Taiwanese and Japanese businessmen frequent the area after hours to visit “jiu dians” where female hosts poor them whisky and they conduct business deals.
I just don’t want to have those things going on in my midst. Not to mention that the habits and behaviors of people who like to hang out in an area like that would probably disrupt my peace of mind. I’m a runner and I don’t want to have to live in a building full of cigarette smoke. Mafia guys make a lot of money and feel entitled to act however they want. Ie; smoking in non-smoking restaurants, chewing bin lang and not giving a F*** what anyone thinks. Moreover, I like to sleep early and I don’t want a lot of noise pollution cramping my style. I would morph into a montrous bitch-face from hell. Yeah, beauty (and brain) sleep is essential.
Finally, seeing prostitutes would just be depressing. I wouldn’t want to have to encounter them regularly. I can’t stop them from doing what they do but I don’t want to see it or know about it. Add the lecherous businessman into the mix and it’s a recipe for me forcing my husband to endure aggressive feminist rants on the regular. It would affect our quality of life.
So, in the end with a bit of perseverance, I found another hot item. And by hot item, I mean to say desirable apartment in a decent location. This time, it was a mere 0.8 km’s down the road from our current spot. After showing my husband the ad, we made an appointment to view it on the double.
The building was new! The floors gleamed! It contained appliances that I haven’t had in my life for too long — a washer/dryer (no more arduous hanging-up work!), a sink outside of the bathroom that could produce hot water, a shower with back-massaging gizmos. In sum, paradise. My husband was equally enamored. We told the landlord we wanted to snap it up.
I should mention that although neither one of us has any regrets (after living here for two months now), some important details in the ad were not entirely accurate. First of all, there is a monthly ‘building fee.’ In the ad, it was stated that the fee was NT$750, super cheap. In reality, it’s $1200/month. My husband went to meet the landlord alone on a different day to sign the contract and he called me to relate this bit of news. It came as a bit of a shocker. We were pushing our budget.
The landlord speaks no English and is a woman. So my husband wasn’t worried about saying anything in front of her in English, she can’t understand. Anyway, I could detect by his voice that he was sweating and having second thoughts, yet also feeling pressured. I, too, contributed to the pressure further by urging him to go ahead and sign it anyway. After all, the price for what we could get was too good to pass up.
Do you know what the landlord said in order to explain the difference between the stated price in the ad (for the building fee) vs the one advertised? That her son made a mistake because she told him to write the ad. This may well be true, still its annoying as our original decision to go for it was based on the info in the ad. Her son lives upstairs in an apartment that she bought for him which is about 2x the size of ours. It turns out that my husband went to junior high with him, they’re the same age. I’m not sure whether he has a family or not. Anyway, he’s lucky to have such a generous mom.
Most of the other people in our building now own their apartments. People don’t really speak to one another, it’s a very mind-your-own-business kind of a place, which suits me perfectly as an extrovert with introverted tendencies. Moreover, I am not the only white person or foreigner here. There’s a French dude downstairs and a Japanese girl, too. I like that. Yay for diversity.
We have a security guard, which I originally thought was a good thing. We didn’t have one before in our old place. But sometimes the security guard is nosy and annoying. I’m not surprised as he is most likely retired from whatever he did as a career and doesn’t have much to do besides sit in his chair whenever he’s on duty. I mean, it’s good to know somebody is guarding the premises, but with our locked gate, plus locked front door, plus elevator that requires a key card, I hardly feel threatened.
In regards to his nosiness, he often asks where we are going. Or he’ll ask me where I am going. I don’t always feel inclined to report back to people on my whereabouts, thus, it’s mildly irksome. Sometimes I’m going to work, sometimes I’m running to the store and sometimes I came back immediately because I forgot something.
“You came back?!” He inquires. Shocked face.
“Um yeah. No worries.” I reply in Chinese.
“Why can’t he just do his job?” I’m thinking silently to myself. I can handle hello and goodbye, but beyond that I feel burdened. As an American who grew up in Connecticut I suppose I’m just not the friendly, folksy type. I’d say that I’m nice, but I don’t have tons of patience with strangers. For the most part, this demeanor has worked well for me in Taipei.
Back when I made the east to west coast transition in the states for college, it wasn’t that easy. Portland is aggressively friendly. It rubbed me the wrong way from the start, but eventually endeared me. I tried in vain to adapt to that culture, still I remained an east coast bitch at heart. My husband, on the other hand is one of the most tirelessly outgoing and positively friendly people one could ever hope to meet. He keeps me in check.